To get to the desert, I went through the desert, and also over a mountain. (Like I said, it’s always about journey.) I went on a tour with Camel Safaries, one of the many tour companies operating out of Marrakech, and over the course of 3 days and 2 nights, we wended our way over the High Atlas Mountains through Tizi n’Tichka Pass, stopped in Ait Benhaddou, drove through the Dades Valley, walked in a bit of Todra (Todgha) Gorge, and sped across the the black sands surrounding the small town of Merzouga, where we mounted up on camels and trekked into the Erg Chebbi part of the Sahara Desert. It was a heckuva road trip.
Desert always means journey. Nomads living in it, tourists traveling across it, refugees escaping through it — the Sahara is wide and the journey often long. We move across its orange-golden dunes with no sense that we will ever reach anything but another dune. Even the small part of it I visited in February, the Erg Chebbi, seemed endless when I was in it. I had traveled by minivan over a two-day span, and then by camel for another hour and a half, and the anticipation and tedium of the long journey had built up, but once I was in the middle of the desert, that all blew away to nothingness.
The Sahara was vast and immutable. Continue reading
There are two mausoleums in the Saadian Tombs: one for the sultan who built this complex, Ahmed al-Mansour ed-Dahbi, and one for the most important woman in his life. Who was that? Well, according to this exchange I overheard between a tour guide and one of his group members:
Now this was for the most important woman in his life — who do you think that was?
We don’t have queens. No, this was for his mother.
Should’ve posted this closer to Mother’s Day…
Al-Mansour basically had enough time to make sure the complex was built, before he had need of the mausoleum himself. Wives, chancellors, princes, and other descendants were buried here over the next several decades. But the Saadian dynasty fell, and around 1672 the new sultan, Moulay Ismail, sealed up the tombs.
Aerial photographs taken in 1917 (I’m guessing during WWI though I can’t find confirmation of that) revealed the location of the tombs to the French, who then re-opened them up. They found somewhere between 170 and 200 graves, some in the gardens and some in the Chamber of 12 Pillars (where al-Mansour and his son are buried).
Today, you find the tombs by walking down a narrow alleyway, paying a small fee, and turning a corner into a small, sunny courtyard. The graves are decorated in colorful geometric patterns and Arabic script quoting the Koran. A few orange and palm trees rustle gently in the breeze. A tortoise munches its way across the grass. Apparently, cats guard the mother’s tomb, but I didn’t see them — perhaps it was too warm that day and they were off duty.
Without making too light of the fact that this is the final resting place for the people buried here, I will also say that the gardens in the Saadian Tombs make for a wonderful respite from the bustle of Marrakech.
Chefchaouen, Morocco; February 14, 2017
Ben Youssef Madrasa, Marrakech, Morocco; February 6, 2017
Sunset, Sahara Desert, Morocco